Harry Plunket Greene
Harry Plunket Greene (24 June 1865 – 19 August 1936) was an Irish baritone who was most famous in the formal concert and oratorio repertoire. Making a great contribution to British musical life, he also wrote and lectured on his art, and enriched the field of musical competitions and examinations. He also wrote a classic book about fly fishing.
Plunket Greene was born in Dublin. He was educated at Clifton College and initially expected to follow Law at Oxford. However, after he was 'smashed up' in a football accident he had a year's convalescence. Discovering his musical calling he studied under Arthur Barraclough in Dublin before attending the Stuttgart Conservatory for two years under Hromada in the early 1880s. He also studied in Florence with Luigi Vannuccini (a pupil of Francesco Lamperti), and in London with J. B. Welsh and Alfred Blume.
He made his debut in London (at the People's Palace, Mile End) in 1888, in Handel's Messiah, and in the next year appeared in Gounod's Redemption. In 1890 he made operatic debuts as Commendatore in Don Giovanni and as the Duke of Verona in Romeo et Juliette, at Covent Garden. Thereafter he elected to make his career in recital.
In oratorio, his first Festival appearance was at Worcester in 1890. Plunket Greene created the title part in Parry's Job, at the Gloucester Festival in 1892. This includes the Lamentation of Job, an extremely long (28-page) and sustained oratorio scena. David Bispham said of his performances that he 'created the part and rendered it many times with superb dramatic feeling.' In this, as in most of Parry's songs, Plunket Greene recognised the perfect declamation of Parry's writing, the accent upon word-values falling naturally and correctly in the music. As a result he became the original exponent or dedicatee of many of the lyrical works of Parry, and also of Battison Haynes ("Off to Philadelphia"), and of Charles Villiers Stanford. Stanford wrote Songs of the Sea for him, and the singer also greatly admired Stanford's Cushendall and Irish Idyll cycles and the Three Cavalier Songs set to Browning's words. Although his voice was not exceptionally powerful he used it with great style, musicianship and intelligence.
In 1891 George Bernard Shaw found him 'fairly equal to the occasion in the wonderful duet' from Bach's Whitsuntide Canatata, O, Ewiges Feuer, with the Bach Choir. In April 1892 (sharing the platform with Joseph Joachim and Neruda, Fanny Davies, Alfredo Piatti and Agnes Zimmermann (piano)) he sang admirably in his first set (Lully, Cornelius and Schumann) in a Monday Popular Concert, but made little of his second group. In November 1893 at the first of George Henschel's London Symphony Orchestra concerts for the season he performed Stanford's new song, "Prince Madoc's Farewell", so patriotically 'that he once or twice almost burst into the next key.' Shaw's strictures on his diction were no doubt taken very seriously by the singer, who studied to make absolute clarity and naturalness of diction a central point of his teaching and example.
From early in his career Plunket Greene became a champion of ballad and song in the English language, including traditional Irish and English song, into the concert repertoire. Through his connections with Stanford, Parry, Vaughan Williams, Gervase Elwes, and through the imitations or arrangements of Irish songs by Hamilton Harty, Arthur Somervell, or Charles Wood he was very active in promoting this movement in English and Anglo-Irish art-song. He did this not by succumbing to the imitation of country singing, but by investing whatever he sang with all the principles of good singing - of long and intelligent phrasing, clean, natural attack and diction, lively faithfulness to rhythm and timing, and the powerful engagement of imagination in interpretation. These values were explained in his 1912 book Interpretation in Song which ran through many editions and rapidly became a classic. His advocacy of art-song was indefatigable. His early accompanist Henry Bird gained an appointment as accompanist to the Chappell Ballad Concerts after his very successful partnership with Plunket Greene in the Hungarian Songs of Francis Korbay.
Recitals – partnership with Leonard Borwick
During the 1890s (from 1893) Plunket Greene became one of the foremost British performers and interpreters of the German lied, especially of Schubert, Schumann and Brahms. This he did in association with the English pianist Leonard Borwick (the brother of a schoolfriend), a Frankfort pupil of Mme Clara Schumann's noted for his powerful rhythmic delivery, and who (like his fellow-pupil Fanny Davies) was closely involved in the London work of Joachim. Plunket Greene and Borwick formed a musical friendship which lasted until Borwick's death.
Plunket Greene was touring in America in Spring 1893 and wrote to Borwick suggesting they should deliver a song and pianoforte recital in London, unlike the more usual form of miscellaneous concert with a mixed company. The first recital was in St James's Hall in December 1893, followed by a tour throughout the country, and this pattern was repeated for ten years. Borwick played his own programme as well as accompanying, but after a couple of seasons Samuel Liddle came in as accompanist. Pioneering this model of the recital, they gave a lead to that movement in London. Their rules were to maintain musicianship, avoid the glare of publicity, and never to take care of hands or voice.
On 11 January 1895 at St James's Hall, Borwick and Greene gave the first complete public performance of Schumann's Dichterliebe to be heard in London. Their musical partnership was still active in 1913, but the demands of their separate tours became so great by the early 1900s that they agreed not to continue their former recital programme unless it could be done whole-heartedly. Plunket Greene toured especially in the United States, where he considered the audiences especially attentive and appreciative, and in Germany. He also liked northern English audiences better than southern ones, and liked singing to audiences of public schoolboys.
Gerontius and after
Plunket Greene was a friend of Elgar's, and appeared in his Malvern Concert Club events. He was the original baritone in the first (October 1900) performance (Birmingham Festival) of Elgar's Dream of Gerontius, alongside Marie Brema (angel) and Edward Lloyd (soul), under Hans Richter. In June 1900 Elgar had written to Jaeger, "he sings both bass bits and won't they suit him. Gosh." Although his recordings, and some commentators, suggest the voice was not a large one, it must have been capable of sustaining and projecting a considerable tone at this time, for both the Gerontius baritone solos require this. Moreover, for this most personal of his works, Elgar must have felt some real aptness in the choice.
Arthur Somervell's song-cyle, on Tennyson's 'Maud' was originally produced (with twelve songs) in 1898 and was championed by Plunket Greene. In 1899 he married Gwendolen Maud, the youngest daughter of Hubert Parry, and their first son was born in 1901. He also gave the first performance of Somervell's 'A Shropshire Lad' cycle, at the Aeolian Hall on 3 February 1904, and so had the distinction of being the first to sing settings of A. E. Housman's lyrics, which afterwards became so fundamental an inspiration to the composers associated with the English song revival of that period.
Plunket Greene included a selection from the Songs of Travel by Ralph Vaughan Williams in recital in February 1905. Then (or soon afterwards) the composer heard him and dedicated the songs to him, and Greene afterwards quoted from them, and from Silent Noon (from the House of Life cycle), in his work on Interpretation in Song. Greene was responsible for establishing these songs in the English concert repertoire, where he was constantly attempting to raise the standard and quality of appreciation of English song through his programming.
He supported Gervase Elwes from the start of his professional career and was his lifelong friend. At Elwes' audition for the Royal College of Music in 1903 Greene wrote to encourage him with the favourable reactions of Parry and Stanford, and soon afterwards put him up for the Savile Club in London. In 1906, he joined the party at Brigg to sing in the second festival there organised by Elwes and Percy Grainger, and declared his wish to be in many more of them. When Elwes died in 1921, Greene wrote "I always felt he [Elwes] was the man I most looked up to." 'In the St Matthew Passion, (he) made us feel that he of all men was best fitted to tell us the greatest story in the world.'
Plunkett Greene's recordings were made first for the Gramophone Company, in 1904–1906. He included folk-songs in his recitals, according to them the same values of diction, phrasing, rhythm, and interpretative sincerity which he brought to art-songs. In later years, as he moved into the field of song-lecturing, he did great service to the cause of British folk-music. His last recordings were made by the electric process for Columbia Records: his late recording of 'Poor old horse' is an affecting example.
On 24 January 1910 he appeared in the memorial concert at Queen's Hall for August Jaeger (Elgar's 'Nimrod'), singing a group of songs by Walford Davies, and Hans Sachs's monologue from Die Meistersinger. He made his first appearance in Henry Wood's Promenade Concerts at the Queen's Hall in October 1914 singing Stanford's Songs of the Sea with the Alexandra Palace Choral Society. He had declined to fulfil an engagement to sing them there for the Stock Exchange Orchestral Society in 1907 on hearing that they still used the high English Concert pitch.
Competitions and festivals, teaching
In his later years Plunket Greene was busily involved in the organisation of music events and in teaching and administration. In 1923 he made his fifteenth voyage across the Atlantic (the first had been in 1893), on this occasion to act as a judge in Musical Competitions throughout Canada. From New York he went to Toronto by train to join Granville Bantock. This was to be at the five Festivals of Ontario, Manitoba, Sasketchewan, Alberta and British Columbia. This was the first Ontario Festival (Toronto) (with Robert Watkin-Mills and Boris Hambourg also in attendance), the 6th in Winnipeg (with Herbert Witherspoon and Cecil Forsyth assisting), where the Earl Grey trophy was competed for, the 16th in Edmonton (Alberta), with choirs from Lethbridge and Calgary, and in Prince Albert they were with Herbert Howells. The promotion and encouragement of these events provided not only a great spectacle and opportunity for music-making, but also infused a competitive spirit into the works of choirs, singers and instrumentalists in the award of prizes (in the tradition begun at Kendal, UK in c.1889), tending to the encouragement of excellence. Plunket Greene repeated the experience in Saskatchewan in 1931, together with Harold Samuel, Maurice Jacobson and Hugh Roberton.
Plunkett Greene married Gwendolen Maud, Hubert Parry’s younger daughter, in 1899. The couple had three children: Richard (born 1901), David (born 1904) and Olivia (born 1907) who never married, despite a colorful youth. The marriage was an unhappy one, however, and they separated in 1920. Plunket Greene died on 19 August 1936, aged 71. He was buried in the churchyard of Hurstbourne Priors, near the graves of his two sons.
His grandson Alexander Plunkett Greene married fashion designer Mary Quant and had a son Orlando.
- Interpretation in Song (London: Macmillan, 1912)
- Pilot and other stories (London: Macmillan, 1916)
- Where the Bright Waters Meet (London: Philip Allan, 1924)
- From Blue Danube to Shannon (London: Philip Allan, 1935)
- Charles Villiers Stanford (London: Edward Arnold, 1935)
H.P.G. recorded songs both for Gramophone Company and Columbia records.
Published recordings for the Gramophone Company (1904–08):
- 2-42776 Abschied (Schubert). 22 January 1904; matrix 4891b
- 3-2016 Off to Philadelphia (Battison Haynes). 22 January 1904; matrix 4892b
- 3-2017 a) Mary (Goodheart) b) Quick, we have but a second (Stanford). 22 January 1904; matrix 4894b
- 3-2018 Father O'Flynn (arr Stanford). 22 January 1904; matrix 4894b
- 3-2059 (a) Eva Toole (b) Trottin' to the fair (Stanford). 14 February 1904; matrix 5065b
- 3-2060 The Donovans (Needham). 14 February 1904; matrix 5067b
- 3-2089 Over here (Wood). 4 January 1904; matrix 4779b
- 3-2333 a) The happy farmer (Somervell) b) Black Sheila of the silver eye (Harty). 30 May 1905; matrix 2114e
- 3-2334 The gentle maiden. 30 May 1905; matrix 2116e
- 3-2335 Little red fox (arr. Somervell). 30 May 1905; matrix 2113e
- 3-2336 Little Mary Cassidy. 30 May 1905; matrix 2121e
- 3-2337 Johneen (Stanford). 30 May 1905; matrix 2120e
- 4-2017 Molly Brannigan (arr Stanford). 14 December 1908; matrix 9282e
- 02174 Off to Philadelphia (Battison Haynes). 14 December 1908; matrix 2741f (12")
Columbia (electric) recordings:
- DB 1321 Poor Old Horse (Trad). 13 November 1933; matrix CA14156-1
- DB 1321 The Garden Where The Praties Grow (Trad). 10 January 1934; matrix CA 14157-2
- DB 1377 Trottin' to the Fair (Stanford). 10 January 1934; matrix CA14158-3
- DB 1377 The Hurdy-Gurdy Man (Schubert). 10 January 1934; matrix CA14259-1 wav available [Dec 2009] from 
In addition to recordings of songs, he also recorded a Lecture 'On The Art of Singing' for the Columbia Records International Educational Society series (Lecture 75), on four sides, Disc numbers D40149-40150.
- Eaglefield-Hull 1924.
- Bispham 1920, 159.
- Shaw 1932, i, 107, 129; ii, 73, 89; iii, 86–88.
- Harold Simpson, 'Ch. XI: Plunket Greene, and Stanford's Irish songs' in A Century of Ballads, 1810-1910 (Mills and Boon, London 1910), pp. 237-247.
- This section, ref Plunket Greene 1934 (Blue Danube to Shannon), 74–89.
- Young 1956, 126–127.
- Young 1956, 84.
- e.g. Eaglefield-Hull 1924.
- Rufus Hallmark, 'Robert Louis Stevenson, Ralph Vaughan Williams and their Songs of Travel,' in Brian Adams and Robin Wells (Eds.), Vaughan Williams Essays Vol 44 (Ashgate Publishing, 2003), pp. 135, 138.
- Elwes 1935, 127.
- Elwes 1935, 155.
- Elwes 1935, 165.
- Elwes 1935, 281–282.
- Elwes 1935, 296–297.
- Elkin 1944, 41.
- Wood 1946, 295: Elkin 1944, 70.
- Elkin 1944, 104.
- From Blue Danube to Shannon, Chapters II and VII.
- Brook 1958, 76.
- "Biography". Retrieved 17 January 2015.
- Catalogue of Columbia Records, September 1933 (Columbia Graphophone Company, London 1933), p. 374.
- D. Bispham: A Quaker Singer's Recollections (London: Macmillan, 1920)
- D. Brook: Singers of Today (London: Rockliff, 1958), 'Keith Falkner', pp 75–78.
- Arthur Eaglefield Hull: A Dictionary of Modern Music and Musicians (London: Dent, 1924)
- R. Elkin: Queen's Hall 1893–1941 (London: Rider, 1944)
- W. Elwes and R. Elwes: Gervase Elwes, The Story of his Life (London: Grayson & Grayson, 1935)
- H. Plunket Greene: From Blue Danube to Shannon (London: Philip Allan, 1934)
- M. Scott: The Record of Singing to 1914 (London: Duckworth, 1977)
- G.B. Shaw: Music in London 1890–1894, 3 vols. (London: Constable & Co., 1932)
- H. Wood: My Life of Music (London: Gollancz, 1938)
- P.M. Young: Letters of Edward Elgar (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1956)